Friday, December 04, 2015

The "Christie Effect" On Gun Control, Development & Lead Poisoning In New Jersey

Christie poses with Camden HS football players in September
Yesterday the New Jersey state assembly's effort to override Governor Chris Christie's veto of a reasonable gun control bill came up just three votes short.

As reported yesterday, the bill, S-2360, passed both the lower house and the state senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and would have made it mandatory for police to be notified whenever someone with a record of having been committed to a psychiatric facility tries to petition a judge to remove that fact from their mental health records in order to obtain a gun permit.

The bill also would have allowed members of law enforcement to weigh in on the petition before the judge made the decision - I guess Christie's campaign boasting of being the "law & order" guy who backs police is secondary to his desire to placate the NRA.

Given that the gun control bill reflects the will of the majority of NJ voters, the Governor's veto makes it clear that "Candidate Christie's" desire to please the freedom and gun-loving Republican primary voters in New Hampshire is more important than the safety of the people in his own state.

As a New Jersey citizen who sits on the outside of the inner workings of the NJ state legislature, it's hard to tell precisely why the vote to override the veto failed.

In a positive example of bipartisan cooperation, as reported, four Republicans did vote across party lines to back the Democratic-sponsored bill.

But a number of GOP assembly members who cast votes for the original bill when it came to the floor did not vote to override Christie's veto yesterday.

It's not just the Republicans fault the measure didn't pass either.

Gotta go, gotta go! "Whip" Wilson resigns before veto vote
It certainly didn't help that Democratic Assemblyman Gilbert "Whip" Wilson, who represented Camden, New Jersey's Fifth Legislative District, mysteriously decided to resign on Wednesday just 24 hours before the critical vote on Christie's veto was scheduled to take place.

Given that he was elected Camden County Sheriff last month, a city that's been wracked by gun violence over the years, you'd think "Whip" would've stuck around for one day to cast a vote to override Christie's veto of the gun control bill.

But as I've said before, Christie is a ruthless and extremely shrewd political operator and he's also spent a good amount of time in Camden over the course of his tenure as Governor; so it's not all that surprising that Whip Wilson would tender his resignation as a favor to Christie.

It was just about three months ago back on September 24th that Christie announced a much-needed $1 billion investment to develop retail and residential properties on the Camden waterfront area on a 16-acre stretch of land along the Delaware River next to the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Rendering of the Camden waterfront development project
The investment comes from Liberty Property Trust, the organization that led the transformation and redevelopment of the Philadelphia Navy Yard right across the Delaware.

There's no doubt the development of the waterfront area in Camden will bring jobs and revenue to an urban area of the state that has struggled in so many ways.

But it's also an interesting example of the "Christie Effect" - the ability of the Governor to be at once highly partisan in terms of his political views, while at the same time magnanimous and bipartisan where the economic interests of the state are concerned.

As Melissa Hayes reported in an article posted on back in September:

"South Jersey Democratic power broker George E. Norcross III, who has partnered with the Republican governor on several Camden-related projects, is one of the local business leaders financially supporting the project. Norcross heads the board of the Camden-based Cooper University Hospital, which recently gained exclusive authority to provide paramedic services in the economically distressed city thanks to a bill that was fast-tracked in the Legislature and signed by Christie in July."

George Norcross & "Whip" Wilson at a recent Obama event
With a $1 billion waterfront redevelopment project in place set to help revitalize Camden, "Whip" Wilson becoming Camden County Sheriff is a pretty good career move.

And hey, the guy has served Camden as a Democratic assemblyman, knows the community and is politically connected - more power to him.

But in terms of overriding Christie's veto of the gun control bill (which would have an impact on the quality of life in Camden), let's just say the timing of Wilson's resignation is interesting to say the least.

Regardless, Christie shouldn't count his political chickens just yet.

In the wake of the mass shootings in San Bernardino, momentum for stronger gun control measures is building and Democratic assembly speaker Vincent Prieto announced that he will schedule another vote to override Christie's veto in two weeks on December 17th.

There's talk that some Republican assembly members might be swayed to change their votes on the veto in return for Democratic concessions on tax cuts and the assembly passed a bill yesterday 64-0 that cuts taxes 50% on all boat sales in New Jersey.

Ostensibly the tax cut is to help the struggling boat and yacht industry in New Jersey, but it's clearly a nice juicy bone for the wealthier state residents who own expensive Jersey shore properties and who would be in the market for a new boat - take a wild guess at what the percentage of those people who vote Republican is.

Republicans are also interested in tax cuts on estate taxes despite wanting to boost gasoline taxes at the same time - but it may be the price Democrats have to pay for gun control legislation.

So with two weeks to negotiate behind the scene before the next vote, there may yet be time to reach a compromise that will enable both Democrats and Republicans to bring home some political bacon in time for the holidays.

Christie's constantly shifting political identities leave me confused sometimes.

The Obama-bashing I can understand to a degree; he's a Republican running for president during the 7th year of a successful 2-term Democratic president's tenure.

But on the other hand you have a guy who vetoes a reasonable gun control measure who also worked with Democrats to bring hundreds of millions in private and public investment to the city of Camden - an urban area of New Jersey that's gone neglected by previous governors to a large degree.

Yet, as "All Things Considered" reported in a segment on NPR earlier this evening, his administration is not the first to shift millions of dollars in funds earmarked for the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund into the general treasury to shore up holes in the budget created, in part, by lack of revenue resulting from generous tax cuts to top earners in NJ and an unwillingness to increase the gasoline tax.

As a two-part series on lead poisoning in New Jersey by Todd Bates posted on reports, the state created the LHCA Fund back in 2006 "to help remove lead from homes or isolate lead contamination, pay for the emergency location of households with lead-poisoned children, provide extensive education and outreach, and pay for training on how to keep buildings lead-safe."

Despite the fact that "Elevated levels of highly toxic lead have been found in more than 3,100 young children in New Jersey so far this year, according to preliminary data", the Christie administration and the Democratic-controlled state legislature have shifted between $53 to $100 million from the fund to fill other budget holes.

So who is Christie anyway? The candidate who talks about blocking Syrian refugees from entering the state?

The man who helped steer $1 billion in private and state investment to the city of Camden?

Or the governor who vetoes gun control legislation and goes along with siphoning millions from a fund established to tackle lead poisoning - the number one environmental hazard to the health of New Jersey children?

The majority of whom are minority children living in cities like Trenton, Newark and East Orange.

As I've said before, Christie could be elected president if he was smart enough to stake out territory in the centrist-moderate Republican no-mans land that GOP politicians fear to tread these days.

But he has an identity problem and his determination to don a xenophobic, intolerant, right-wing political personae that stands in contrast with who he's actually been as a governor is what's going to prevent him from being elected.

That's my prediction anyway.

It's the "Christie Effect" and it leaves me confused.

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